Thursday, 19 May 2016

Elbowgate...? It’s a little sad...

That our government functions with marginally more decorum than a model parliament

I can see why the Prime Minister got frustrated and decided to leave his chair during yesterdays session in the house of commons. After all, he was a school teacher and he’s probably used to dealing with unruly teenagers. 
(A heavy handed teacher and a presumably misbehaving MP)

When you’re a teacher you must maintain control of your class if you wish to get anything done. As you are the one in charge, and not a peer of the students, sometimes a heavier hand, (calmly but firmly moving a student back to their seat for example) can be useful. However the ability to use heavy handed techniques is justifiable because of the dynamic created in the student teacher relationship. The House of Commons is not a classroom, and the Prime minister is not supposed to be its teacher. The members are to be considered peers of each other, and decorum is supposed to be maintained at all times. This is why PM Trudeau’s actions are creating so much controversy, they are interpreted as disrespect as they do not reflect a peer to peer relationship. To act like you are so far above a peer that you, like a frustrated teacher or parent, grab someone by the arm and “guide” them to their seat, is a huge sign of disrespect. It shows that the PM does not view himself as a peer of other MPs. The only member who is tasked with keeping order is the speaker of the house, for any other member to attempt to regain order in the commons is usurpation of the speakers power. So not only does this action reflect the Prime Minister’s view of other members being less than his peers, but it also shows that he only has respect for the house and its officers when it suits him. Geoff Reagan is after all a liberal MP as well as being speaker, but PM Trudeau could not even show patience and allow him to regain control, he thought this was a job for the PM. I will look like a bigger man, and they children. 

Mr. Trudeau seems to have forgot a lot about how the house works though… You don’t get to pick and choose what decorum you like. During PM Harper’s tenure the Liberals were just as vocal and disrespectful towards the house. This is not unusual of an opposition and there’s good reason why. The number of seats a party holds is only a small part of who gets their message across in the house. For as long as I have studied politics it’s not the number of voices, but to volume of individual voices that makes the difference. Take Elizabeth May and the Green party, although holding less seats than any other party (so much less they weren’t in the formal debates this year) most Canadians probably have a good idea of what the Greens stand for. This is because Ms. May was vocal in her criticisms, vocal in her jabs, and along with the other parties broke with decorum enough to derail various conservative statements. Tactics like shouting remarks, banging desks and creating rabble are, as anyone familiar with the house knows, a hallmark of Canadian politics. Why is this allowed ? Simply because the actions that members were engaging yesterday were not out of the ordinary. This is essentially the way things have always been done in the house. While members are supposed to show respect, they are most often not respectful. Like many things in Canadian politics (Including the office of the Prime Minister) this is due to what’s called a ‘political convention’. Convention rules westminster style politics and the Canadian House of Commons. "This is done because its the way it has always been done" is a laymen's explanation for a political convention. This is often the justification for things in Canadian politics. Wanton free discussion during question period, loud banging on desks, general rabble rousing and lack of respect is a convention in the house of commons, this is a fact.

The real amusing thing about this controversy is how much the NDP appear to want to jump into the fray. No one can blame them, I suppose. When you have less seats than a city bus you better have a couple of loud voices if you want people to hear your message.
(City Bus with 55 seats compared to the NDP's 44)
Now, I have watched the video several times and yes, MP Ruth Ellen Brousseau appears to get elbowed by the PM. However much like a european soccer player, she herself seems to take a couple seconds to notice. Although the audio isn’t great it appears she turns to other seated NDP members and with a look with puzzlement of her face says “Did the PM just elbow me?” the members appear to nod and then like a player who’s coach has given them the signal, she removes the question mark from her statement and dives onto the ground clutching her leg. Er wait the analogy has gone to far, she actually just starts wailing “THE PM ELBOWED ME” over and over, when the NDP coach “notices” the foul on the play (i’m fairly sure I saw  Mulclair nodding with the group) he comes in to join the vocal tirade that has started. As I said earlier, when you don’t have a large number of voices, if you want to stay relevant as a political party you better increase the volume of the voices you still have, even if it means taking a dive every now and then so they have something to yell about.

Now part of the real problem as I alluded to in my second paragraph is the decorum of the house in general. Regardless of convention, if there is a vote tabled members should not be standing and talking, especially when the bell to return to seats is ringing, as it was in the video of the incident. Members should not be out of their sections, members should respect the speaker, they should address all questions to other members through him etc. These are the basics of what we are taught in school. However this is not the case. During my model parliament days around 2007, such actions as the NDP leader being kidnapped, the planting then finding of “drugs” in the oppositions desks, multiple members walking across the floor and switching parties (this was prior to the creation of the Belinda Stronach law) etc, this was closer to the decorum of the real house than we were taught. Compare this to other states though and again through the lens of relativism it doesn't seem so bad. When private land ownership rights were proposed in the newly declared Russian federation members of the communist party head butted and physically prevented the party proposing th bill from coming to the podium where all new bills must be introduced. More similarly and recently in several debates in British parliament, groups of MPs not aligned with the motion being read, took the the floor in large groups to prevent the motion. The speaker in these cases suspended parliament for about a quarter of an hour, where after tempers had cooled, debate returned to normal (except in one case from 1970 where two canisters of CS gas were released, that sitting was suspended for just under two hours).

So at the end of the day most people only have one question in regard to all this, “Who should i be mad at ?” In this case i would say the largest blame lies on the chair of speaker of the house. Geoff Regan could have suspended the house for a few minutes if MPs were truly causing a grave disorder, after all that precise language is used in births parliament and after all Canada’s is in nature similar to England's. However when was the last time a speaker did this in Canadian parliament ? I have no idea and couldn’t care to look it up, this is because it’s completely aside from Canadian conventions. So what was Speaker Reagan to do ? Next blame the office of the PM, as this is the office who appoints a speaker, becomes offended when no one listens to them, then switches to the opposition and pays no attention to the new speaker. 

(The shocked Member for Outremont)
Lastly to the NDP, look Mr. Mulclair, if you’re going to go, just go, your angry vitriol and banshee like screams of “SHAME” or “YOU’RE PATHETIC” you prove you can't even be level headed over an issue of decorum. 

It’s 2016 Mr. Mulclair, everyone including MP Brousseau, who was standing after the speaker instructed them to sit, broke the rules. The PM also broke the rules, by leaving his seat and manhandling another member, he did not break the rules by elbowing your MP, that was an accident as she appears to be standing directly behind the conservative whip either eavesdropping or simply loitering to block the vote. Either way they are both at fault. In situations like this one, where the top officials we have elected to represent us make us look like fools, there is no one not to be mad at. All members broke the rules of decorum, there is no “one broke it more than another” that’s ridiculous. Who should we be mad at ? The house of commons and all its constituent parts. You have failed us by making a mockery of the democracy we have entrusted you with. I am not currently a sitting MP however, so the House’s rules of decorum don’t apply to me. “FOR SHAME HOUSE OF COMMONS, YOU’RE PATHETIC, FOR SHAME” … hmm I still don’t feel any better.

Video of the incident -

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